Mansfield News

Southern Champion Tray going digital with large expansion

Before construction.
Before construction. Photo courtesy

Southern Champion Tray’s new digital printer will be operational soon, allowing the Mansfield facility to take on smaller, custom jobs for its customers.

That’s just part of Southern Champion Tray’s 25,000-square-foot expansion that will be completed in August. A celebration and ribbon cutting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 10 at the facility, located at 949 Sixth Ave. in southwest Mansfield.

While Mansfield residents may not know what the 90-year-old company actually does, they are familiar with the colorful boxes that entice customers to buy in stores like Home Depot and Costco. Southern Champion Tray has printed boxes for consumer goods in Mansfield for 40 years.

"You throw away most of our stuff but if it wasn’t for our stuff you probably wouldn’t have bought it," said John Simpson, general manager for the Mansfield facility.

Southern Champion Tray employs about 100 people in Mansfield now and will add a third shift over the next year, creating another 10 to 15 jobs, Simpson said. The Chattanooga, Tennessee-based company is owned by a third generation family with Christian values, Simpson said. And the fourth generation is already on board with the company.

Southern Champion Tray plays an important role in branding consumer products in today’s competitive retail industry. A good example is to think about how many different scents and types of laundry detergent are available from just one company on the grocery aisle.

Southern Champion Tray makes sure each individual product has a different look.

And the expansion will allow the company to do things it hasn’t done before.

Historically, it takes two to three hours to set up a press run with the first several hundred sheets being wasted until they get the color right. Economically, they could only do large runs of 10,000 or 18,000 sheets.

"In order to buy cost-effective packaging, they have to order thousands in high volume," Simpson said.

The new Hewlett Packard digital printer can be set up quickly with little waste, making it possible to do short runs of 1,000 or 2,000 units. It’s got more color options, making for more vibrant box art.

"It’s very, very cost effective to be able to do some originalization and customization," Simpson said. "We’re a marketing director’s dream because it gives them tools that they haven’t had before."

Now, they can print custom packaging for one store or help promote an upcoming film or holiday, such as Christmas, with a low volume run, Simpson said. That way, they aren’t stuck with extras after the promotion or holiday is over.

Workers are building a climate-controlled room for the digital printer inside a new section of the building. The company will also add two or three other pieces of equipment while also expanding the offices.

The Mansfield Economic Development Corp.will contribute $910,000 to Southern Champion Tray through 2020 to help fund the expansion. The MEDC is funded by a city’s half-cent sales tax.

Simpson declined to release specifics on how much the expansion cost. According to MEDC documents, Southern Champion Tray will invest at least $15.2 million into the expansion.

As a condition of the MEDC’s contribution, Southern Champion Tray must add 69 new jobs by 2020.